A Decade-Long Ride: 10 Amazing Build A Bike Moments

For the past 10 years, United Way staff, volunteers, agency partners and community members have come together to kick off summer at Build A Bike. We split into teams, strategize and get to work on building bikes to distribute to children across the region. The freedom that comes with their very own bike not only helps foster healthy habits, but also provides an outlet for physical activity and fun. Since starting this work a decade ago, United Way has provided 2,100 bikes to help students build for success in school and life.

This year’s Build A Bike took place over three days — June 12 to 14, 2024in parks across the region. Though nothing beats the look on a child’s face when they get a bike, we have seen many amazing moments at this iconic event throughout the years. Check out these 10 inspiring Build A Bike memories, impact stories and everything in between:

  1. Bobbi Watt Geer, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

“Every year it amazes me to see the rows and rows of just-built bikes assembled on the hill. And each year the amount grows. Even without the kids there, you can just picture the glee they’ll feel when they get their brand-new bike. The feeling is unmatched.” (…)

Posted by admin on June 27, 2024

How physicians are now helping local families meet basic needs through United Way.

By Eric Trow

When times are good, families in southwestern Pennsylvania trust their community physicians to provide the regular checkups and sound medical advice to keep their families physically healthy. And when routine injuries and illness occur, they also count on the physician’s specialized expertise. But what about when catastrophic things happen—when a single event or medical emergency impacts both the physical and financial health of a family? Many still turn to those same medical professionals for trusted guidance.  

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania recently took steps to make it easier for physicians to lead their patients to the support they need. Thanks to the proactive efforts of Dr. Don Vigliotti, a retired pediatrician, current United Way board member and active volunteer, more pediatricians now know about a vital United Way resource program called PA211 Southwest.   (…)

Posted by Eric Trow on June 18, 2024

Supporting Summer Social and Emotional Learning

By: Ana Kay Yaghoubian, Director, Building for Success in School and Life 

Summer break brings the need for summer programs that keep kids engaged and give parents peace of mind that their kids are safe while they are at work. Since 2020, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Welcome Back Sumer funding opportunity has supported summer programs across the region. This year, with generous support from our funding partners, $1 million will be invested in summer programs across the region, deepening our commitment to building for success in school and life. 

Welcome Back Summer is an opportunity to consistently assess the needs of our partners. With the data collected we use our resources to address those needs so our agency partners can focus on feeding, clothing and educating their community’s kids in an emotionally safe space. 

This year, program staff at Welcome Back Summer locations are gearing up to deepen their expertise in culturally affirming social and emotional learning, (SEL) which supports student’s self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making. Research shows that SEL improves academic performance as well as skills, attitudes, and behaviors, such as student self-efficacy, self-esteem, mindset, perseverance, and optimism, among others.   (…)

Posted by Ana Kay Yaghoubian on May 9, 2024

Empowering Dreams: The Impact of STEM Grants on Student Success

By Ana Kay Yaghoubian, Director, Building for Success in School and Life and Brittany Boyd, Communications & Social Media Coordinator

Clark Cekus, a student at Bethel Park High School, dreams of joining the Air Force. The STEM School Champions program powered by Arconic is giving him a head start on this dream, offering valuable hands-on experience with scientific technology and laying a solid foundation for his future career goals.

In October 2023, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania awarded $140,000 in grants to 14 schools in our region, benefiting nearly 5,000 students. This funding, made possible by the Arconic Foundation, aims to enhance STEM programs across the region, giving students like Clark access to unique resources and learning opportunities.

Upon hearing about the STEM School Champions grant program, Bethel Park technology education teacher Brad Kszatowski  applied for funding for equipment that would “tie all the subjects in the school together.” With the support of Mandi Figliolli, coordinator of curriculum school and instruction for Bethel Park School District, the application was successful, allowing the school to acquire a drone, slow-motion camera, infrared camera and a borescope. These scientific tools serve multiple purposes, making connections between various fields of study while broadening students’ career prospects.

“This grant allowed us to go above and beyond. We want to connect kids to careers in trades and sciences, and these resources will help us do just that,” says Figliolli.


Posted by Ana Kay Yaghoubian on May 6, 2024

When Unsafe Conditions Impact Renters

Pennsylvania House of Representatives member Dave Madsen (D-104, serving Dauphin County), drafted House Bill 1549, to help tenants who are displaced to unsafe conditions. The Post-Gazette reached out to United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to ask what we’re hearing through the 211 helpline and from partner agencies. United Way’s Sally Ellwein, director of Meeting Basic Needs, and Michele Breisinger, senior director of the PA 211 Southwest contact center, shared their insights. 

Sally: When people are forced to leave their home because it is uninhabitable, they may not have time to search and consider factors about where they’re moving to, especially when there are health violations that put someone in immediate danger. There is often not a whole lot of choice in where to go next.  

Michele: Usually, tenants will contact their landlord initially to address any issues they may have. If the issue cannot be resolved with the landlord, they might seek assistance from legal resources for landlord-tenant disputes. If legal resources are unable to help, the tenant may need to consider vacating the property. In cases where the home is considered uninhabitable, individuals may attempt to move in with friends or family members who are also renters. However, this action could potentially violate their lease terms and conditions, leading to the possibility of the friend or family member getting evicted. 

Sally: Broadening to eviction in general, when tenants are displaced, it is hugely disruptive and expensive. If renters are in subsidized housing, then it’s often difficult to find a new place because there are not enough subsidized units to meet demand. The number one concern for them is avoiding homelessness. Displaced renters don’t have the luxury of looking for a safe neighborhood with good schools. They’re looking for the next place they can afford so they’re not subjecting their family to being unhoused.  

Michele: Health code violations are typically what triggers this. Examples include sewage backing up the basement, a roof leak, or a broken furnace.  Mold is another issue that can trigger the need to suddenly move. 

Sally: ACTION-Housing, Just Mediation and Neighborhood Legal Services are good places for people to turn if they need help. And, 211 is always here as a resource.  

If you know someone who is facing homelessness or eviction, encourage them to dial 211, text their zip code to 828-211.  

Posted by admin on April 23, 2024

Uniting Women to Create a Brighter Future

Last night United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council hosted Celebrate to Elevate, our annual event that brings us together to experience what it truly means to be a part of this incredible group. And it was filled to the brim with excitement and energy.  

We learned first-hand how United Way’s work benefits women and children, participating in hands-on activities like packing period products to help girls stay in school and women to show up to work with dignity, the Tough Choices simulation where we strategized how to run a household on an extremely tight budget and the Outcomes in Action activity where we sharpened our knowledge and uncovered the work that United Way does to help women and children in our region.  

We had the opportunity to network, indulge in food stations, bid on raffle baskets, record video testimonials, laugh in the photo booth and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.  

And that exciting announcement: thanks to your participation in our recent member survey, we heard you. You told us that you deeply value the connection, the networking and the sisterhood. And that you want us to be as welcoming as possible. You told us that we must be a big tent, open to women across all dimensions of diversity, from age, gender expression, race, ability, and stage in career and life. You want us to be crystal clear that we are working with United Way to support women and children. You told us that this group unites women—wherever they may be in life—to connect, find their passion and make an impact. We deserve a name that fully captures that impact.   (…)

Posted by admin on April 12, 2024

Unlock Your Earned Refund: How United Way’s Free Tax Prep Program Puts Money Back into Your Pocket

As Director of Moving to Financial Stability at United Way, Alena Anderson invests in partner agencies that help people earn a living wage and develop the tools they need to build wealth and fulfill their full potential. As a single mother, she understands the work that goes into making ends meet. Here she talks about United Way’s Free Tax Prep program, which helps households earning $65,000 or less maximize their refunds, and how she hopes families will use the program to keep what they’ve earned.   


Q: Can you tell us about your experience navigating the financial challenges of being a working mom while also raising two daughters? 

A: Oh, absolutely! Being a mom to two teenage girls definitely comes with its own set of hurdles, especially when it comes to managing the ever-changing needs (and expenses) of each season. From back-to-school supplies in the fall to the scramble for affordable summer activities, it seems like there’s always something demanding attention and money. And let’s not forget the stress of tax season on top of it all!  

Q: How did you handle the stress of tax season while raising your daughters? 

A: Tax season was always a particularly stressful time for me as a working mom. Filing taxes can be a headache, and when you’re anxiously awaiting a refund that might not be as much as you hoped, it adds an extra layer of worry. Plus, paying for tax preparation services can be costly. I remember feeling stuck, trying to find quick refunds to cover my family’s immediate needs while grappling with those extremely high fees.  


Posted by Alena Anderson on March 19, 2024

Honoring the legacy of Jim Roddey

Jim Roddey, our region’s first county executive, was a friend to many, including United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and he will be greatly missed. Jim chaired our 1988 campaign, which raised $34.3 million for the community. He also served as board chair from 1990 to 1992. Jim was a legendary and thoughtful advocate whose dedication to service and civility made him a bridgebuilder. Nobody could tell a joke quite like Jim, whose humor broke down barriers and brought people together. We honor Jim’s legacy of public service and philanthropy and remain inspired by his dedication to community. United Way joins with voices across our region in honoring Jim Roddey’s ability to bring people together for the betterment of the entire community.

To read more about Jim, click here.

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on March 8, 2024

Bridging the SNAP Gap: addressing essential needs beyond food

Food insecurity has been and remains a serious issue across the nation. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), initiated in 1933, stands as a critical federal program designed to support low- and no-income individuals and families in accessing essential food items. Currently, 2 million Pennsylvanians benefit from SNAP food assistance.

Yet, while SNAP benefits have been a lifeline for so many, it’s important to recognize that not all essential items that families need are covered. At United Way, we call this the “SNAP gap” — the shortfall that occurs when essentials that people need aren’t SNAP-eligible.

“Many people are surprised to learn that SNAP benefits, while critically important to healthy nutrition, do not apply to essential personal items that allow people to show up with dignity and confidence,” said Sally Ellwein, director of Meeting Basic Needs at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. SNAP Gap items include shampoo, household and cleaning supplies, medicine and even period products.

Overcoming this gap is a challenge for many families in southwestern Pennsylvania, impacting their overall well-being and their budgets.


Posted by akougher on February 20, 2024

PA 211 Southwest: A lifeline for our neighbors in need.

By Bobbi Watt Geer, Ph.D. 

Raymond is a veteran and a senior citizen. He’s also legally blind. About once a week a neighbor stops by to read him his mail. They are stunned to learn that one of the unopened letters is a shut-off notice from the electric company. Kenneth was evicted from his home a month ago. He is homeless for the first time and has no idea what to do. Andrea was recently hospitalized for a hip replacement. Her husband won’t let her move back home after the surgery, so she’s been living in her car in the hospital parking lot for three weeks.

Each of their situations is unique, but thankfully they are not alone. Raymond, Kenneth and Andrea* are among 1.3 million people who reached out to PA 211 last year. The PA 211 call center network spanning the commonwealth provides a safety net that anyone in Pennsylvania can turn to for assistance. Requests come in by phone, text, chat or through the PA211.org website. Contacts are answered by a trained Resource Navigator, a real person who has a database of 80,000 human services resources at their fingertips. The service is free and confidential. 

Regionally, PA 211 Southwest, which launched in 2011 and is operated by United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, now serves Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.  

211 Resource Navigator on phoneEvery contact starts with a human connection. The Resource Navigator asks each caller their name, where they live and how they can help. Often, a call about not having enough money for rent turns into a much larger conversation. Does the caller have enough to eat? Are they able to pay their utility bills? How is their health, and do they need referrals to clinics in their community? More recently, in recognition that internet access has become a necessity for everything ranging from school to work to telehealth, Resource Navigators ask if callers need help accessing low-cost internet, computers or other devices, and basic technical assistance to get and stay online.  (…)

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on February 12, 2024

Our commitment to ending housing insecurity.

By Bobbi Watt Geer, Ph.D. 

Homelessness is on the rise nationally and regionally and is particularly visible in downtown Pittsburgh. We at United Way want to make sure our donors and partners know that, from 2023 to 2026, United Way is investing at least $1 million annually in eviction prevention and housing insecurity.

The people behind the numbers: Housing is the most basic of human needs. Increased visibility of people who are unhoused has led to an influx of news stories focused on public safety. What these stories may miss is that rising homelessness is tied directly to increased housing costs. Far too many of our neighbors are one car repair, one job loss or one illness away from being unable to afford their rent or mortgage. (…)

Posted by Bobbi Watt Geer on February 8, 2024

A need for diversity and inclusion: Learnings from our WLC member survey

By Dr. Kathy Humphrey and Maris Dauer, Women’s Leadership Council Co-Chairs


United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) is one of a kind. This dedicated and unique patchwork of dynamic women has created quite an impact in its 22-year history. However, to continue our work and growth, we know that the WLC must be inclusive for all and as diverse as our region in terms of race, ability and stage in work and life. Data about our community and our membership helps inform United Way’s work.

We know, for example, from our ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) data—the metric that United Ways in 26 states use to track how working people are faring—that a family of four needs to earn at least $6,202 in Allegheny County, significantly more than the poverty level of $2,500 a month to afford housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and basic technology. ALICE reveals that women and girls – particularly single mothers and BIPOC women – are among the most vulnerable in our region. This is further demonstrated by the sobering fact that 75% of last year’s PA 211 Southwest helpline contacts came from women.

We realized we wanted to understand the diversity of our membership and have input from varying viewpoints to make sure United Way and donor groups like WLC are delivering what affected communities need most.

With leadership from WLC Executive Committee members Steffanie Jasper and Regina Scott, a WLC DEI committee was established. Steffanie and Regina, who serve as DEI Committee co-chairs, have been instrumental in guiding us to focus on becoming more relevant and welcoming across all dimensions of diversity, including race, ability, age and gender. Recommendations from Steffanie, Regina and the DEI committee have included hosting WLC events in diverse communities, highlighting the stories of women of all ages, races, gender identities and abilities in our marketing and storytelling, and being more intentional in our efforts to welcome women from all backgrounds to join and remain engaged.


Posted by Kathy Humphrey & Maris Dauer on January 11, 2024